Japan launches moonshot research competition

24 Feb 2020 | News

Researchers invited to submit visions for AI robots, quantum computers and new food production systems

Signage at Miraikan, Japan's national museum of emerging science and innovation. Photo: Bigstock

The Japanese government has launched its funding competition for researchers to chase six ambitious ‘moonshot’ goals by 2050, including the development of an artificial intelligence robot that is physically as capable as a human.

The launch of the moonshot calls last Thursday was hit by fears over the coronavirus outbreak spreading, with the government cancelling information sessions in cities including Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, and Fukuoka. 

The government will spend more than 100 billion yen (€830 million) over the next five years on the programme, which also includes calls focussed on the development of diagnostics for the early detection and prevention of diseases; sustainable methods of recycling waste materials; sustainable food production; and quantum computers.

The new, mission-oriented effort by Japan reflects “a greater sense of urgency” to meet some of the country’s biggest challenges, such as a population that is ageing faster than anywhere in the developed world, said Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, executive member of the government’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, and chair of the council overseeing the moonshot programme.

Speaking at a conference in December, Kobayashi described Japan’s basic research as “wonderful” but explained that it is “neither quickly applied nor capable of solving our fundamental problems.”

The deadline for selecting programme managers to oversee the six long-term projects is May. These managers will be responsible for a portfolio of projects, leading to the eventual 2050 end goal. Winning entrants will be announced mid-summer.

Submissions from researchers based outside Japan are eligible, but so far information on applying is only available in Japanese

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